I admit I took my time to think about all the books read in 2007. I wasted much time gazing at my list and reminding myself how much fun I had while reading this, and how I nearly missed my stop in the morning commute while reading that. I also wasted a lot of time telling myself that giving a sort of prize for best and worst books was useless, and who was I to compare a novella by Henry James with last year’s chicklit bestseller… But, for what it’s worth, here are a few books I will remember for 2007 (in chronological order):
Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being: because I am definitely more at ease with her essays than her novels. It’s a matter of voice that makes her more approachable. Witty and moving, she really points towards emotions and people with equal truthfulness. I admire the courage she had to tell about her bereavements, her abuse and her difficulties.
Philip Roth, The American Pastoral: because of Roth’s writing, and because the loss of American innocence, or of a man’s innocence is not just a small, local problem. I was completely awed by Roth’s rants and more than a few pages just left me breathless. I wonder why I waited so long to tackle this dreaded Big writer.
John Banville, The Sea: because of the awesome writing. And the unreliable, unsympathetic narrator: just the kind of man you really wouldn’t like to be stuck with on a rainy day in real life, but thanks to Banville, I could have followed him for a hundred pages more. I didn’t know the first thing about this author before, but I intend to explore him more this year.
Gunter Grass, Peeling the Onion. Well, I just reviewed it a few days ago and no, it’s not just a fad. It moved me quite a lot to see an old man look back at the boy he was with his flaws and stupidity and attempt to trace how this indoctrinated boy came to become a writer with a political conscience.
Also, runners-up that I’m sure will stick with me for a while:
The Iliad: because no matter how old it is, the tragedy works and nearly makes you cry. If you don’t believe it, try it. Just don’t forget the tissues.
Jane Austen, Lady Susan: I can’t believe how young she was when she wrote that scathing, dashing piece of black humour, with a tinge of Liaisons Dangereuses that made me reconsider dear Jane’s prudish reputation.
Nina Berberova: I read a few novellas and her memoir, and I want to know more about her. The ladies from St. Petersburg nearly made me cry.
I talked way too much about crying. If you want or need to laugh hysterically, you can spend a few delightful hours with Sophie Kinsella’s Undomestic Goddess. I couldn’t keep quiet with that book in my hands (and believe me, I’m normally a very quiet and serious person).
Finally, I want to be wicked for a minute and let you know about 2 books you really shouldn’t waste your money or your time for, in my humble opinion:
C.J. Sansom’s Winter in Madrid was a dreadful bore, all the more as the setting in WWII Spain had a lot of potential. Big disappointment.
Karen Joy Fowler’s Jane Austen Book Club, because I hate it when someone uses a great writer’s name to make money and tell an uninteresting story.
I realize now that the books I like have all in common a unique voice that makes me feel as if the writer talked to me. I found this great quality in Nuala O’Faolain’ Story of Chicago May, or in Nancy Huston’s essays and fiction. It’s hard to define it more precisely. These authors were able to communicate empathy to me in a very personal way, even though their subject or character weren’t particularly nice or close to me. It’s a big mystery for me how this can be achieved, why it works with some texts and not for others.